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Randi Kreiss

2020: love in the time of the coronavirus

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This Valentine’s Day, maybe skip the kisses and consider an elbow bump or shaking hands — even with your boyfriend or your wife or your kids. And if you do shake hands, be sure to use a hand sanitizer afterward.

The coronavirus, which emerged in China earlier this year, is spreading, and with millions on the road and flights going in and out of Chinese cities, officials are struggling to get control of the epidemic.

Coronavirus is a new mutation of viruses that cross to humans from animals. In the same way that the SARS and MERS viruses caught fire and spread, the coronavirus likely infected humans who visited or worked in the many open-air animal markets in China. The disease, for which there is no known cure, causes pneumonia, and because it is viral, antibiotics are of no use.

I remember visiting the night markets in Hong Kong some years ago, and it isn’t surprising that disease festers in the unhygienic stalls where chickens and pigs and birds and exotic animals are crowded into densely packed pens. The unprotected laborers who work in the markets, handling and slaughtering animals, are exposed to all kinds of pathogens.

Some of the most deadly epidemics in recent times, like Ebola and Marburg, also began with animal-to-human contamination.

Here we are, in the heart of February, and the best advice is to stay home and take care of yourself when you’re sick, even if it appears to be just a head cold. Colds are greatly underestimated as a source of real misery, and they’re the gift that keeps on giving. So, if you’re sneezing or coughing and feel stuffy, please keep it to yourself. And yes, chicken soup does help, mainly because the steam may help relieve congestion.

There are likely to be more cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. As I write, the World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency, our government is warning against travel to China, banning some travelers from that region, and some airlines have stopped flying to and from Chinese cities.

Despite the efforts of the Chinese government, which has locked down the city of Wuhan, where the virus began, the disease has spread. Confirmed cases have been reported in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the U.S. and Vietnam. According to the World Health Organization, the number of cases could be much higher than reported because many people may have only minor symptoms.

The U.S. has survived epidemics and pandemics before, and has vast resources to help prevent the coronavirus from getting a foothold here. It is also true that young, healthy people are more likely to recover. Older people and individuals with compromised immune systems are at risk.

In 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide — about one-third of the planet’s population at the time — and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million, including some 675,000 Americans.

One of the byproducts of epidemics is ignorance. Unfortunately, there is anti-Chinese sentiment proliferating along with the virus. I suppose that happens when anxiety triggers irrational fear.

The antidote to ignorance and racism is education. Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times this month, telling her story of living in Beijing with her children during the height of the SARS epidemic. She suggested reasonable precautions and rational behavior. To her it seemed more risky to fly home during the SARS outbreak, so she stayed in Beijing, and they were fine with stepped-up hand washing and avoiding crowds and markets.

Here in the U.S., we’re OK at the moment, but we should monitor developments and keep ourselves as safe as we can.

Back to kissing:

I was 15 once, about a hundred years ago, and I probably would’ve ignored any advice that ruled out kissing. Fortunately, 15-year-olds aren’t at great risk. Others do need to take the threat seriously. Perhaps the virus will burn itself out before too long and retreat, as SARS did, but at the moment it is rocketing around the world.

It seems prudent to stay home when you’re sneezing and coughing, even though it’s much more likely that you’re spreading a cold, not a rare virus. If you do spike a fever or feel that you’re dealing with more than a head cold, see a doctor.

Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.